The reintroduction of boreal caribou as a conservation strategy: A long-term assessment at the southern range limit
Keywords:boreal caribou reintroduction, Charlevoix herd, conservation tool, decline and extirpation, landscape disturbance, predator-prey relationships
AbstractBoreal caribou were extirpated from the Charlevoix region (Québec) in the 1920s because of hunting and poaching. In 1965, the Québec government initiated a caribou reintroduction program in Charlevoix. During the winters of 1966 and 1967, a total of 48 boreal caribou were captured, translocated by plane, and released within enclosures; only their offspring (82 individuals) were released in the wild. Between 1967 and 1980, a wolf control program was applied to support caribou population growth. The caribou population, however, remained relatively stable at 45–55 individuals during this period. During the 1980s, the population grew slowly at a rate of approximately 5% each year to reach a peak of 126 individuals in 1992. At that time, Bergerud & Mercer (1989) reported that the Charlevoix experiment was the only successful attempt at caribou reintroduction in the presence of predators (in North America). Afterwards, the population declined and since then it has been relatively stable at about 80 individuals. Here we reviewed the literature regarding the ecology and population dynamics of the Charlevoix caribou herd since its reintroduction, in an attempt to critically assess the value of reintroduction as a conservation tool for this species. Indeed, the Charlevoix caribou herd is now considered at very high risk of extinction mostly because of its small size, its isolation from other caribou populations, and low recruitment. The Charlevoix region has been heavily impacted by forestry activities since the early 1980s. Recent studies have indicated that these habitat modifications may have benefited populations of wolves and black bears—two predators of caribou—and that caribou range fidelity may have exposed caribou to higher predation risk via maladaptive habitat selection. As females are ageing, and females and calves suffer high predation pressure from wolves and bears respectively, we suggest that the future of this reintroduced herd is in question and that they are facing a high probability of extinction in the near future if further action is not taken.
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